Solar program powers sustainable workforce

July 08, 2018 | GET MORE : Community

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U.S. Bank and GRID Alternatives partner to bring solar power and training to tribal communities.

When Wyatt Atkinson, a U.S. Navy veteran and Assiniboine and Sioux tribal member, first heard about an opportunity to get hands-on solar installation training, he was hooked.

“It was like the universe came into alignment and placed a stepping stone to my dream right in front of me: the chance for a meaningful job after college that would give me the skills I would need to help make my reservation (Fort Peck in Montana) energy independent.” 

He started training with GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit and national leader in making clean, affordable solar power and solar jobs accessible to disadvantaged communities. 

“One of GRID’s main missions is developing a workforce,” said Wyatt. “If we want energy sovereignty on tribal lands, it needs to be tribal members that are spearheading that workforce, creating our own companies, creating our own jobs.” 

Tribal communities across the country are looking for new, sustainable strategies to overcome energy and economic challenges, and increasingly they’re looking to solar. Local expertise is paramount, so being able to bring solar power and solar job training to tribes in the process of gaining their own skills is a powerful motivator for individuals like Wyatt. 

Since 2010, GRID has partnered with more than 30 tribes, installing solar electric systems for nearly 600 tribal families and providing over 500 tribal members like Wyatt with hands-on solar installation training and exposure to renewable energy career pathways.

Now, with support from U.S. Bank through a new $100,000 grant from the company’s Community Possible giving platform, GRID plans to reach even more tribal communities nationwide through solar.

“Each solar installation is an opportunity to introduce the viability of solar technology to the entire community, highlight solar as a career pathway, and provide hands-on training for local tribal members looking for a steady, well-paying career,” said Tim Willink, director of tribal programs for GRID. “We’re looking forward to making that impact stretch even further with U.S. Bank’s support.”

As for Wyatt, he’s now employed full-time in the solar industry as a solar installation supervisor for GRID Alternatives, installing solar and training future renewable energy professionals throughout the North Coast region of California.

“As part of my end goal, I plan on going back to my own reservation and helping them achieve energy sovereignty,” he said.